How to Start a Pub

Want to know how to start a pub? You know, the kind of laid back neighborhood bar where “everybody knows your name”? Well no matter what kind of bar you decide to start, owning a bar or pub is hard work and requires a lot of up front preparation and determination. They are long hours, so you should be sure that you really love the bar business to begin with.

So what do you need to know before you start a pub?

The Customers

One of the things that makes a neighborhood bar so appealing when it comes to owning a bar, is that few bars have as an across the board appeal as a pub. Starting a pub has the inherent advantage that it doesn’t turn away anyone. No matter if you are a hipster, a cowboy, a business person, or a frat boy, you will be equally comfortable downing a Guinness in a neighborhood bar—even if it isn’t really your neighborhood.

Of course, this is also the drawback of this kind of a drinking establishment. Since it appeals to virtually everyone, it doesn’t really target anyone in specific. This can lead to a complacent sort of a feeling about your neighborhood bar if you are not careful. As in, “Didn’t there used to be an okay sort of neighborhood bar here?”

That is why you need to actively work to build relationships with the locals who will be your main customers and look to make their experience as enjoyable as possible.


The traditional décor for the pub is lots of hardwoods—almost like an Old West saloon. If you are going for the Irish bar vibe, green will, of course, become the leitmotif when starting a pub in this style–soft lighting, a jukebox, a TV, and maybe pool tables and that kind of thing.


Neighborhood Pub

Photo Courtesy of Ben Ostrowsky (via Flickr)

Location is key when you start a pub or any kind. Even though virtually anyone can be comfortable in this kind of a neighborhood bar, few will leave their neighborhood to go to a pub. A pub is more a place you go when you are already there. That means that either you have to be in a crowded urban neighborhood where people already lives, or somewhere people head out to for other reasons.

That is why, for example, you can find a fair number of bars (with a number of pubs among them) in virtually any financial district—businessmen (and some women) still like to get a drink and unwind before heading home from a hard day.

It is also helpful if you are in a location with foot traffic where you are likely to get walk-in’s who just happen by.

Staffing and Pub Grub

Because you are looking to draw customers into your establish before or after they have done something else (such as going to work or catching a movie), it is a good idea to offer some kind of simple comfort food—traditionally known as “pub grub.” This kind of simple meal will increase the chances customers come to your place rather than head somewhere else because they are hungry and not ready just to have some drinks.

Having food will of course effect how much staffing you need since preparing food adds a whole new dimension to service. Many pubs will have waitresses and a small kitchen staff. If this is more than you are looking to contend with, the usually peanuts will do, but you will definitely lose some opportunities this way.


Owning a bar like a pub does require a bit of imagination however. If you are just the stereotypical neighborhood bar you are unlikely to get the kind of buy-in from your customers that will allow you to foster the kind of loyalty that is needed for a bar to have longevity. This is one reason why it is important to have the kind of staff that can keep your customers happy and involved.

The traditional promotions that help this along are trivia nights and live music offerings on the weekends. The trivia night has become a bit hackneyed and is a bit time intensive when done well. It really does require more than just breaking out the Trivial Pursuit board on Tuesday nights.

You shouldn’t just limit yourself to tradition however. Pubs don’t traditionally have dancing but no rules are written in stone. And live music can work as well—as it does for Molly Malone’s in LA (a favorite among some bands who got their start there).

If you feel like an 80’s night or a jazz night would work well for your location than go for it. Always stay aware of what you competition is up to as well, as they may have some good ideas for your place as well.

Never get complacent however. Pubs need to keep up with the times as well. Owning a bar is as much about keeping up with the times as any other profession.

Filed Under: Starting a BarStarting Your Bar/Nightclub Business


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